Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Failure of American Political Speech

H/T to @Lynneguist for this article about the failure of American Political speech.  While I agree with the overall premise, I have two comments.  After explaining how misuse of the term "socialist" really, really bugs the author, he states:
As our Book of isms says, socialism is:
A political and economic theory that holds that the means of production and distribution in an economy should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole or by a central government.   
Got that? The means of production. Owned by the government.  
As one comment notes: 

No, that's not what it said. "Owned *or regulated*". Got that?
So if the means of production and distribution are in private hands, but they have to abide by an overwhelming blizzard of regulations that nearly buries their ability to function the way a business in a free economy should function (namely, in response to the market), then by this definition it is completely fair to describe that situation as socialism. 
The author then continues and falls into the confusion about the term "liberal".  Noting that Burkean philosophy was called liberal at the time--and it was, "classical liberal" refers to Burke--the author makes the leap that conservatives are actually "liberal."  They are, but what most people never notice is that modern American liberals aren't liberal in the historical sense of the term.  They are progressives.  One of the great failures of American political speech is this rarely known switch to calling progressives liberals.


Expat mum said...

As I've mentioned before here, I get slightly irritated and frustrated by the amount of words such as "liberal", "socialist" and "conservative", (as in all the GOP candidates claiming to be "the most conservative") being bandied around with me effort to define any one of them.
Most irritating to as a Brit, was the pointing over the Pond and talking about "socialism" during the healthcare hysteria, as if all Brits were somehow living behind an invisible Iron Curtain.
I really wish some of the TV interviewerss would just stop the debate/interview/commenter in the diner and ask them for clarification next time they hurl out a word they clearly haven't thought deeply about.

AHLondon said...

I can only imagine the confusion. Most of us don't understand the terms. 'Course much of it was done deliberately. Progressives started calling themselves liberal to obscure the socialist and fascist roots of progressivism, because as you well know, the socialism doesn't sell here in the US. We've got that cultural instinct for limited government. The media and intelligentsia took great care to make sure people only though of social issues when speaking of conservatives. They co-opted the traditional limited government term and labeled l the other guys as backward boogy men. Clever trick, that.
How about "judicial activism"? It means something different to liberals and conservatives. When liberals complain of judicial activism they are typically complaining of a court that does not defer to acts of a legislative body. When conservatives complain of judicial activism they are complaining of a court that acts as a legislative body.
Then there is "Republican." It doesn't mean conservative and is grossly maligned on civil rights issues. You could start here for that one.
We've rendered political language almost useless for conveying accurate information.

Megs said...

“The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But under the name of ‘liberalism,’ they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened. I need no longer run as a Presidential Candidate for the Socialist Party. The Democratic Party has adopted our platform.” -- Norman Mattoon Thomas, 1944

Of course, it's never good policy for a group of people (in this case, the DNC) to allow themselves to be defined by an outside group (in this case, the Socialist Party). However, maybe we can review the 1944 platform for the Socialist party: (Very interesting read - they predict that capitalism cannot survive after WWII, but it actually probably had the best run ever.) The group that actually adopted the Socialist platform is the group that the unions. And since then, the unions have influenced the DNC immensely via campaign financing and less savory transactions.

Another thing to point out is the use of the word "democratic" to mean only good things. Democracy necessarily leads to tyranny of the majority just as anything "owned or regulated by the community" must. Socialism espouses democracy to an extreme because it eschews freedom of personal property.

Just a few more examples of how political speak is all doublespeak and increasingly useless.

AHLondon said...

I think I will post a cheat sheet on such terms. Want to help? Send me what you think of. After dog hunt this morning, I'm a little fried and have large playdate this afternoon, so my head not really in the search at the moment.